BACKGROUND: Malignant mesothelioma is a sporadic tumor related to asbestos. Its occurrence in blood relatives raises the question of potential contribution of predisposing factors. METHODS: The study analyses the features of mesothelioma in blood relatives that might explain the disease clustering. Data sources of familial clusters were three population-based Mesothelioma Registries in Italy (Veneto and Apulia Regions, Brescia province; 1978-2005) and Medline, Toxline, and Oshline/Hseline databases for a review of the literature (1968-2006). RESULTS: Eleven clusters (22 cases) were identified among 1954 Italy mesothelioma cases, and 51 clusters (120 cases) were extracted from 33 studies. The proportion of Italy familial cases was 1.4 per 100 mesothelioma cases; the ratio between the number of familial clusters and the number of non-familial mesothelioma cases was 1:148. The mesothelioma profile in consanguineous is the same as in non-consanguineous subjects (male prevalence; pleural site; age at diagnosis >50 years; asbestos exposure). Most clusters occurred in asbestos workers (shipyard, asbestos-cement production/processing, and insulation) and household-exposed blood relatives. Others were related to asbestos-cement factory pollution, asbestos-in-place, and handling asbestos-contaminated textiles. Two clusters were without any known exposure. Cancer family history revealed lung cancer cases in eight clusters. CONCLUSIONS: Available data support asbestos exposure as the main risk factor in mesothelioma cases among blood relatives. Our finding of a low proportion of familial cases would not suggest the influence of a large genetic component for mesothelioma in blood relatives.
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